How to Clean Your Headphones and Earbuds

A pair of clean white headphones sitting near a laptop on a table.Evgeny Karandaev / Shutterstock

So you have cleaned your phone, keyboard, and mouseCleaning all earwax and disinfecting your earphones is not only good for your hygiene, it can even improve sound quality.

Why clean your headphones?

Whether you have in-ear or in-ear headphones, you should clean them regularly for hygiene and maintenance reasons. This is especially true if you use your headphones while you exercise, as many of us do.

Sweat can build up and make the earbuds smelly. Earwax can clog pilots and reduce not only the volume, but also the clarity of sound. Then there is all the dirt you can’t see like bacteria and other microbes that could make you sick. Clean headphones are simply more hygienic.

A man inserting a headset into his ear.Cicero Castro / Shutterstock

If you adjust your headphones while you’re at the gym, you can transfer everything you’ve touched to them. which causes COVID-19, have been shown to live for up to three days on plastic and other hard surfaces.

Studies have shown that earphones increase bacterial growth inside the ear and can be passed from person to person if earphones are shared.

A variety of staphylococci is one of the most common bacteria that can be transferred from your ear to your headphones. An overgrowth of this type of bacteria could also cause an ear infection. Cleaning your headphones will help reduce this risk.

RELATED: How to disinfect your smartphone

Cleaning the on-ear headphones

The way you can clean your in-ear headphones will vary. Many brands are designed with easy cleaning in mind and have detachable earphones and cables that you can unplug at both ends.

A pair of black Beats headphones. Beats by Dre

Other brands are not as easy to clean, so you will need to be careful not to damage them while you are doing it. Apple, Beats, and Bose

To effectively clean your headphones, you will need the following supplies:

A soft, damp cloth

Cotton balls or Q-tips
A paper towel, a tissue or a clean cloth

If you’re concerned about damaging the fabric of your headphones, first test on an inconspicuous area Rubbing alcohol is unlikely to permanently damage leather or PVC (imitation leather) in the amount you use. If your headphones are made entirely of plastic or metal, you don’t have to worry.

Follow these steps to clean your in-ear headphones:

If possible, remove the earbuds from the helmet for easier access to the mesh below.
With your soft, damp cloth, wipe off any dirt or grime stuck on both the earbuds and the main helmet. Get as much reduction as possible, because bacteria and other bad guys will cling to the dirt.
Dampen a paper towel or clean cloth with rubbing alcohol.
Dampen a cotton ball or cotton swab with rubbing alcohol and clean all the nooks and crannies. Do this both on the ear cups (in areas like fabric folds) and on the main helmet.
Spend a little more time on the area where you grab the headset when you put it on and take it off.
Dab a paper towel or Q-tip in alcohol and wipe the mesh of the main speakers. Make sure you don’t miss any places.
If your earphones have a microphone (like a gaming headset, for example), be sure to clean the mesh and adjustable arm with alcohol too.
Finally, wipe all cables, including the rubber grip near the outlet, with a paper towel and alcohol.

Let the alcohol dry completely (it should evaporate quickly) before reassembling and reuse your headphones. If you allow the isopropyl alcohol to evaporate, it should leave no streaks or residue.

In-ear headphones are arguably even less hygienic than in-ear headphones, because you place them inside your ear. Some earphones sit fairly deep in your ear canal and form a joint thanks to the silicone tips. Although the sound is unbeatable, the risk of getting an ear infection is greater.

A hand holding a pair of Apple AirPods in their open case.Tim Brookes

We have covered how to clean AirPods before, and this advice also applies to most other in-ear models.

To effectively clean the in-ear headphones, you will need the following supplies:

A paper towel, a tissue or a clean cloth
Cotton balls or Q-tips
A wooden toothpick
Blu-Tack or similar adhesive (optional)
Hot water and soap (for silicone tips)

If your in-ear headphones have removable silicone tips, remove them and clean them separately. The best way to do this is to use warm water and soap. Be careful not to tear the silicon while you are doing it. Then put them in a safe place where they air dry while you clean the drivers.

Alternatively, apply isopropyl alcohol to the foam and allow it to evaporate. This will kill any bacteria or microbes that may be present.

Follow these steps to clean your in-ear headphones:

Wipe all of the drivers with a soft, damp cloth. Remove any grime, wax or stuck dirt.
Carefully remove any ear wax or other dirt from the speaker mesh with your wooden toothpick. Take care not to damage the mesh during this operation.
Warm up Blu-Tack (or a similar adhesive) in your hands, then gently press the speaker mesh. Pull it quickly to remove any dirt or wax, then repeat until the mesh of the enclosure is clean. A clean speaker mesh will also improve the sound quality!
Dampen a paper towel or clean cloth with rubbing alcohol. Clean the entire driver, and also take care to clean all the sensors (like the ear detection sensors on Apple AirPods).
Dip a Q-tip in a little rubbing alcohol and use it to thoroughly disinfect the mesh of the enclosure. This should help loosen any stubborn dirt left.
Moisten a paper towel or clean cloth with alcohol and wipe cables, remote controls in line or the rubber grip near the jack.

Cleaning the housing

Some wireless in-ear headphones come with charging cases. It is also important to clean them thoroughly; Otherwise, your now flawless earphones will get dirty again as soon as you put them away.

For AirPods You can use rubbing alcohol and a paper towel to disinfect the inside of the case. Use an alcohol-soaked Q-tip to clean hard-to-reach cargo bays.

Tim Brookes

Remember to remove dirt and grime before disinfecting.

For over-ear headphones, you can use soap and warm water to clean the spots without completely saturating them. Rubbing alcohol will disinfect the fabric, but you may want to do a spot test before doing so, just to make sure the alcohol won’t damage it.

Finally, some people recommend leave silica gel in your helmet case to keep it fresh. The theory is that reducing the humidity level in the housing allows fewer bacteria to grow. This can be a good idea if you often put on your headphones right after a sweaty gym session.

RELATED: The ultimate guide to cleaning your Icky AirPods

Hygiene tips you should hear

To keep your headphones in top condition, clean them regularly. Do not allow ear wax or other dirt to accumulate. If possible, wipe them with alcohol-based disinfectant wipes after each use.

Sharing headphones (especially the in-ear type) can introduce new bacteria into your ears and upset their natural balance. An overgrowth of a certain type of bacteria can cause a painful ear infection.

Health professionals recommend you do not use Q-tips or small sharp objects do this because these can hurt your eardrum. If it is smaller than your elbow, do not put it in your ear.

For earwax buildup, you can buy over the counter ear drops to soften it. Always follow the directions on the package. You can also buy over-the-counter ear syringe kits, which use warm saline to rinse the ear canal.

Now that you’ve cleaned your headphones (and ears), why not disinfect the rest of your gadgets?

RELATED: How to clean and disinfect all your gadgets

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